Yoga: A Healing Practice – Part 1

Guest Blogger: Nora Josephson, MA, LPCC, RYT-200

“Try to do everything in the world with a mind that lets go. If you let go a little you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will know complete peace and freedom. Your struggles with the world will have come to an end”. –Achaan Chah

At this point in time, most people in the Western world have become familiar with the term “yoga”, however, there seem to be many varying ideas about the practice. People may often think of comfy yoga pants, or someone who is limber and flexible or possibly a monk sitting cross-legged, chanting “Om”. The truth is that anyone can do yoga! Many of you might be hesitant to try it out, or believe that you could in fact be a “yogi”, but if you can breathe…you can do yoga! “Once you rest your attention on your breath, everything else begins to open up with ease” (Stiles, 2012).

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Photo Credit: Erin Stotts

The Sanskrit word yoga has many interpretations…it means to unite, to join, to contemplate and to be absorbed. Yoga is a very healing practice and can help calm and reconnect your body, mind and spirit. It can be a great tool to use when going through a difficult time. Particularly after suffering through a traumatic experience, one can experience loss, anxiety, and low energy. Yoga can be used as an intentional practice to heal the body and mind through movement and being mindful of the present moment, in a way that does not overwhelm oneself. Especially when practiced regularly, yoga provides real and lasting benefits. “By stretching and toning the muscles, flexing the spine and focusing the mind inward, yoga helps reduce stress” (Stiles, 2012). “Yoga’s ability to touch us on every level of our being—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual—makes it a powerful and effective means for trauma victims to reinhabit their bodies safely, calm their minds, experience emotions directly, and begin to feel a sense of strength and control.” (Sparrowe, L., 2013). “When people are traumatized, they become afraid of their physical sensations; their breathing becomes shallow, and they become uptight and frightened about what they’re feeling inside. When you slow down your breathing with yoga, you can increase your heart rate variability, and that decreases stress. Yoga opens you up to feeling every aspect of your body’s sensations. It’s a gentle, safe way for people to befriend their bodies, where the trauma of the past is stored.” (Van Der Kolk, 2016).

In Tara Stiles book, Yoga Cures, she speaks to the seven big benefits of yoga: physical, mental, psychological, neurological, intuitive, creative and connected. So what might this mean for you? This means that the movement of yoga can help you be strong and ease muscle tension and tightness. Your breathing can help reset our mind to become more calm and focused and regular practice can aid you in living your life in the moment with ease. When practicing self care and a balanced lifestyle, intuition sets in and can guide you to where you want to go.

The awesome thing about yoga is it gives you what you need. You might be looking for relaxation and healing, another might search for mental clarity and another strength or flexibility. Yoga is about tuning in, noticing your needs and using your breath, movement and attention to unite our mind, body, and spirit!

“How can we live in the present moment, live right now with the people around us, helping to lesson their suffering and making their lives happier? How? The answer is we must practice mindfulness.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

Bringing mindfulness into your practice is an important part of the healing process from a trauma or challenging situation. Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment: your current thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. Where are you right now? As you practice, it is natural to become distracted by thoughts, worries, to-dos, and concerns…no worries at all! This is our habit, our nature; just slowly bring your attention back to the here and now by focusing on your inhale and your exhale. Being in the present moment isn’t always easy; it’s a practice, something to work on and can lead towards an increased ability to manage stressors when they come your way.

“The practice of yoga is designed to keep you in the state of flow so you can experience health, happiness and joy during your entire life” (Stiles, 2012). This might be difficult to imagine through a time of intense pain or grief. That’s why yoga is a practice! See how yoga fits into your personal life. Maybe it’s practicing a gentle flow upon waking in the morning, maybe it’s an hour power class after work, or possibly it is a couple minutes of mindful breathing to break up your day. Listen to what your needs are in this moment.

~Nora Josephson, MA, LPCC, RYT-200

Check out Part 2 which provides a step by step guide to starting your healing yoga practice!

 

Resources:

Stiles, T. (2012). Yoga Cures. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Gates, R. & Kenison, K. (2002). Meditations from the Mat. New York: Anchor Books: A Division of Random House, Inc.

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